Reconstructing ecological niche evolution can provide insight into the biogeography and diversification of evolving lineages. However, comparative phylogenetic methods can infer the history of ecological niche evolution inaccurately because (1) species’ niches are often poorly characterized; and (2) phylogenetic comparative methods rely on niche summary statistics rather than full estimates of species’ environmental tolerances. Here we propose a new framework for coding ecological niches and reconstructing their evolution that explicitly acknowledges and incorporates the uncertainty introduced by incomplete niche characterization. Then, we modify existing ancestral state inference methods to leverage full estimates of environmental tolerances. We provide a worked empirical example of our method, investigating ecological niche evolution in the New World orioles (Aves: Passeriformes: Icterus spp.). Temperature and precipitation tolerances were generally broad and conserved among orioles, with niche reduction and specialization limited to a few terminal branches. Tools for performing these reconstructions are available in a new R package called nichevol.
In this study, we used two common ant species (Lasius niger and L. neoniger) to assay how they translate variation in the diet (both in composition and frequency) into growth. We measured colony development for over 8 months and measured several phenotypic traits of the worker caste, and examined whether forager preference corresponded with diet quality. Individuals (workers) and colonies (superorganisms) increased in size with increasing amounts of protein in the diet, and as a function of how much food was available. Optimal colony growth was a balance between survival and growth, and each of these were maximized with different nutrient regimes. Interestingly, forager preference was not totally aligned with the diet that maximized colony growth. Our results highlight that: 1) organism and superorganism size are controlled by the same nutrients, and this may reflect a common molecular basis for size across life’s organizational levels, 2) there are nutrient trade-offs that are associated with life-history trade-offs, likely leading to selection for a balanced diet, and 3) the connection between the preference of foragers for different nutrients and how nutrient combinations affect colony success and demographics are complex and only beginning to be understood.
Understanding spatiotemporal population trends and their drivers is a key aim in population ecology. We further need to be able to predict how the dynamics and sizes of populations are affected in the long term by changing landscapes and climate. However, predictions of future population trends are sensitive to a range of modelling assumptions. Deadwood-dependent fungi are an excellent system for testing the performance of different predictive models of sessile species as these species have different rarity and spatial population dynamics, the populations are structured at different spatial scales and they utilize distinct substrates. We tested how the projected large scale occupancies of species with differing landscape-scale occupancies are affected over the coming century by different modelling assumptions. We compared projections based on occupancy models against colonization-extinction models, conducting the modelling at alternative spatial scales, and using fine or coarse resolution deadwood data. We also tested effects of key explanatory variables on species occurrence and colonization-extinction dynamics. The hierarchical Bayesian models applied were fitted to an extensive repeated survey of deadwood and fungi at 174 patches. We projected higher occurrence probabilities and more positive trends using the occupancy models compared to the colonisation-extinction models, with greater difference for the species with lower occupancy, colonization rate and colonization:extinction ratio than for the species with higher estimates of these statistics. The magnitude of future increase in occupancy depended strongly on the spatial modelling scale and resource resolution. We encourage using colonisation-extinction models over occupancy models, modelling the process at the finest resource-unit resolution that is utilizable by the species, and conducting projections for the same spatial scale and resource resolution at which the model fitting is conducted. Further, the models applied should include key variables driving the metapopulation dynamics, such as the availability of suitable resource units, habitat quality and spatial connectivity.
Scale and tempo of brain expansion in the course of human evolution implies that this process was driven by a positive feedback. The ‘cultural drive’ hypothesis suggests a possible mechanism for the runaway brain-culture coevolution wherein high-fidelity social learning results in accumulation of cultural traditions which, in turn, promote selection for still more efficient social learning. Here we explore this evolutionary mechanism by means of computer modeling. Simulations confirm its plausibility in a social species in a socio-ecological situation that makes the sporadic invention of new beneficial and cognitively demanding behaviours possible. The chances for the runaway brain-culture coevolution increase when some of the culturally transmitted behaviours are individually beneficial while the others are group-beneficial. In this case, ‘cultural drive’ is possible under varying levels of between-group competition and migration. Modeling implies that brain expansion can receive additional boost if the evolving mechanisms of social learning are costly in terms of brain expansion (e.g., rely on complex neuronal curcuits) and tolerant to the complexity of information transferred, that is, make it possible to transfer complex skills and concepts easily. Human language presumably fits this description. Modeling also confirms that the runaway brain-culture coevolution can be accelerated by additional positive feedback loops via population growth and lifespan extension, and that between-group competition and cultural group selection can facilitate the propagation of group-beneficial behaviours and remove maladaptive cultural traditions from the population’s culture, which individual selection is unable to do.
The stock-specific distribution of maturing and adult salmon in the Northeast (NE) Pacific has been a persistent information gap that has prevented us from determining the ocean conditions experienced by individual stocks. This continues to impede understanding of the role of ocean conditions in stock-specific population dynamics. We assessed scale archives for 17 sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) stocks covering the entire North Pacific, from the Columbia River to Kamchatka Peninsula, to define salmon locations during their last growing season before returning to their spawning grounds. We used the relationship between δ13C in salmon scales and sea water temperature to estimate salmon distribution based on correlation strength. Significant correlations were found for 13 of the stocks allowing us to define feeding grounds with confidence. Complementary information from δ15N, historical tagging studies, and connectivity analysis were used to further refine distribution estimates. Based on the estimated distributions of the NE Pacific stocks, we suggest a sequence of steps that could result in salmon marine distributions. This study is a first step toward determining stock-specific distributions of salmon in the NE Pacific, and provides a basis for the application of the approach to other salmon scale archives. This information will improve our ability to relate stock dynamics to ocean conditions, ultimately enabling improved stock management. For example, our estimated distributions of Bristol Bay and NE Pacific stocks demonstrated that they occupy different areas with a number of the former being distributed in the high productivity shelf waters of the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. This may explain while these stocks seem to have responded differently to changes in ocean conditions, and the long term trend of increased productivity of Bristol Bay sockeye.
The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is critically endangered throughout its distribution range. Knowledge about age distribution of future spawners (silver eels) is essential to monitor the status and contribute to the recovery of this species. Determination of age in anguillid eels is challenging, especially in eels from the northern part of the distribution area where growth is slow and age at maturation can be up to 30 years or more. Eels from the river Imsa in Norway have been monitored since 1975 and this reference time-series has been used to assess the stock at the European level. Population dynamics in this catchment were analyzed during the late 1980s by estimating ages on whole cleared otoliths. However, techniques for revealing annual increments on otoliths have evolved over the years sometimes yielding significant differences in age estimates. In this study, the historical otolith data were reanalyzed using a grinding and polishing method rather than reading the whole otolith. The new age estimates were considerably higher than the previous ones, sometimes by up to 29 years. Since the 1980s, mean age of silver eels only slightly increased (from 19 to 21 years in the 2010s). This was mainly due to the disappearance of younger silver eels (less than 15 years) in the 2010s. The new age estimates agreed with the steep decline in recruitment which occurred in the late 1980s in the Imsa catchment. Growth (30 mm y-1) has not changed since the 1980s, although density in the catchment has decreased. Revealing and reading age of slow growing eels remain a challenge but adding a measure of otolith reading uncertainty may improve age data collection and contribute to recovery measures for this species.
Turtles have been prominent subjects of analyses of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) owing to their mating system and habitat diversity. In prior studies, marine turtles were grouped with non-marine aquatic turtles (NMAT). This is odd because it is well-established that the marine environment imposes a distinct selective milieu on body form of vagile vertebrates, driven by convergent adaptations for energy-efficient propulsion and drag reduction. We generated a comprehensive database of adult marine turtle body size (38,569 observations across all species), which we then used to evaluate both the magnitude of SSD in marine turtles and how it compares to SSD in NMAT. We find that marine turtles are not sexually size dimorphic, whereas NMAT typically exhibit female-biased SSD. We argue that the reason for this difference is the sustained long-distance swimming that characterises marine turtle ecology, which entails significant energetic costs incurred by both sexes. Hence, the ability of either sex to allocate proportionately more to growth than the other is likely constrained, meaning that sexual differences in growth and resultant body size are not possible. Consequently, lumping marine turtles with NMAT dilutes the statistical signature of different kinds of selection on SSD and should be avoided in future studies.
Sickness behaviour is a taxonomically-widespread coordinated set of behavioural changes that in- creases shelter-seeking while reducing levels of general activity, as well as food (anorexia) and water (adipsia) consumption, when fighting infection by pathogens and disease. The leading hypothesis ex- plaining such sickness-related shifts in behaviour is the energy conservation hypothesis. This hypothe- sis argues that sick (i.e. immune-challenged) animals reduce energetic expenditure in order have more energy to fuel an immune response, which in some vertebrates, also includes producing an energetically- expensive physiological fever. We experimentally tested the hypothesis that an immune-challenge with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) will cause Gryllus firmus field crickets to reduce their activity, increase shelter- use and avoid foods that interfere with an immune response (i.e. fat) while preferring a diet thats fuel an immune response (i.e. protein). We found little evidence of sickness behaviour in Gryllus firmus as immune-challenged individuals did not reduce their activity or increase their shelter-seeking. Neither did we observe changes in feeding or drinking behaviour nor a preference for protein or avoidance of lipids. Males tended to use shelters less than females but no other behaviours differed between the sexes. The lack of sickness behaviour in our study might reflect the fact that invertebrates do not possess energetically-expensive physiological fever as part of their immune response. Therefore, there is little reason to conserve energy via reduced activity or increased shelter use when immune-challenged.
Reproductive character displacement is a pattern whereby sympatric lineages diverge more in reproductive character morphology than allopatric lineages. This pattern has been observed in many plant species, but comparably few have sought to disentangle underlying mechanisms. Here, in a hyperdiverse lineage of Neotropical plants (Ruellia; Acanthaceae), we present evidence of reproductive character displacement in a macroevolutionary framework (i.e., among species) and document mechanistic underpinnings. In a series of inter-specific hand pollinations in a controlled glasshouse environment, we found that crosses between species that differed more in overall flower size, particularly in style length, were significantly less likely to produce viable seeds. Further, species pairs that failed to set seed were more likely to have sympatric distributions in nature. While these findings could result from competition for pollinators or differential fusion of sympatric populations based on variable crossability, our results instead lend support for a role of reinforcement whereby selection has acted to increase reproductive barriers between sympatric species, especially given divergence in floral traits less likely to be under selection by pollinators (i.e., style length). Our results add to growing evidence that character displacement contributes to exceptional floral diversity of angiosperms.